There are two ways to deal with the new film "Open Water." The first is to regard it as this year's unexpected box-office phenomenon, a hundred-thousand-dollar film made by a New York couple - Chris Kentis and Laura Lau - who are about to get their share of what promises to be a hundred-million-dollar gross - a new version of the "Blair Witch Project" success. The second, and much better way, is to accept it as what it is: a nicely home-made film that plays on a certain one of our primal fears, that if we go into the ocean to swim we just might get eaten by sharks.
Susan and Daniel (Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis) are a young couple on their way to a scuba-diving vacation somewhere in the Caribbean. We don't know if they're actually married or just living together. They're in love but some of the seams that hold them together are starting to come unraveled; they pick at each other, they're both feeling tense about the vacation. And the night they get to the resort they're beset by insects in the room.
But off they go in the dive boat with 18 other divers, and although we know what's going to happen it's still creepy watching the miscount that lets the boat sail for home without them. So when they surface, alone on the sea, we too are frightened, angry and confused. And here is where good writing can pay off. Will the two simply mouth clichés or will there be some kind of catharsis before the end? Well, in "Open Water" there's something of both. Without giving away the ending, I can say that I was held in some degree of tension throughout. There are good lines and clunkers, moments of excruciating fear and minutes of repetitious dialogue. I guess it's what would happen to me if I were there instead of them.
The film is just 79 minutes long, which is both a benefit and a problem. It's as though, when the filmmakers ran out of ideas, they found the nearest ending in the screenwriting book and used it. It makes for an odd yet reasonably satisfying experience.